New BBC one show THE WEEK THE LANDLORDS MOVED IN looks set to divide viewers along property owning lines.
Episode 1 introduces two different private landlords. First up are father and son team Peter and Mark, who run a £7m empire. Peter’s motto is “let it and forget” and the pair boast about inflating local rents and a vast property portfolio that pulls in £15k of profit per month.
Later, we meet Paul Preston, a 40 year-old whose made his fortune by splitting up houses in Milton Keynes and turning them into HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation). He’s done well enough to offload the day-to-day business to a team, allowing him to spend his time preening on social media as a “property mentor”.
To clarify, these are not parasitic slum landlords, nor is there much evidence that they’re deliberately malicious or negligent. They are operating within the confines of English property law. They are, however, obnoxiously glib - and their attitude towards their properties and their nameless, faceless tenants will instantly rankle with anyone who’s had to rent in the last decade or two.
Highlighting two different types of housing issue, Peter and Mark move into a small two bed flat rented by 66 year-old Linda in East London, while Paul moves into the bedroom of a young professional in one of his HMOs. Restricted to the same budgets as their tenants, it’s a swift and occasionally brutal reality check. A series of predictable revelations swiftly follow as they experience a series of epiphanies. They realise their properties aren’t always in mint condition, that their tenants’ needs aren’t always met and (most astonishing of all) that properties aren’t just houses, they’re homes.
It would be easy to dismiss “Landlords” as another handwringing housing documentary commissioned and produced by the very property-owning classes who are probably reaping the benefits of booming house prices. However, the programme’s real genius is not the wife swap set up but the diligently even-handed way in which it approaches its contentious subject matter.
The litany of flourishing mould, hiked rents, withheld tenancy agreements and swaggering rats in properties that haven’t been visited by the landlords (for years in some cases) – is a sorry and all-too-familiar tale. Even with housing benefit, Linda is trapped working 3 jobs (caring for special needs children) long after retirement age in order to stay near her family. Unable to afford heating, she daren’t complain to her landlords about the broken plumbing for fear they’ll evict her. Her story echoes that of many across the country with the displacement of long-term residents, often working in essential if uncelebrated roles, emerging as the dark side of gentrification.
By contrast, young professional Hayley is less sympathetic. Her main gripes stemming from her own unwillingness to socialise and whose accommodation seems fairly decent, particularly in comparison to Linda’s plight.
No-one gets a free pass (although interestingly, the role of national and local government is largely ignored). Everyone’s at fault, at least a little, as the same story plays out over and over again: landlords who don’t visit their properties and tenants who won’t or daren’t - complain about the conditions. What starts out as a “big adventure” prompts them to reflect the best course of action, from furtive evictions to home makeovers.
With the ending of a short-term tenancy now the single most common cause of homelessness in Britain, this is an interesting and measured insight into the nation’s housing issues. As frustrating as it is fascinating, it’s also likely to leave some viewers (and renters) fuming at the moral and legal injustices at the heart of the English housing market.
- Aired on BBC One, June 28 2017 at 21:00.